Monday, March 3, 2014

New acquisition: colonial writ of execution

This document comes out of a contract dispute between shipwright Henry Smeath (or Smith) and Thomas Doughty, both of Saco, Massachusetts [now Maine].  Apparently, Mr. Smeath purchased an oak plank from Doughty in 1689 and refused to pay.  In October of 1690, Doughty obtained a judgment in Suffolk County against Smeath in the amount of 14 pounds, 11 shillings, and six pence, to which is here added a 2 shilling fine for the cost of executing this court order. 

Here, we have a writ of execution, signed by Joseph Webb, clerk of the Suffolk County court from 1690-1698.  Webb ordered the Marshall General or his lawful deputy to find Smeath and obtain satisfaction of the judgment; otherwise, Smeath should be seized and committed to the safekeeping of the Boston prison keeper. I'm always curious about the people behind these documents.  Did Smeath simply refuse to pay in protest of the judgment?  Did he simply not have the money?  Did he ultimately pay up, or was he arrested?  Today, there would be an attachment of his assets; at this time in England and the colonies, there were debtors' prisons for those who couldn't or wouldn't meet their financial obligations.

Many thanks to the great folks at the Philadelphia Rare Books and Manuscripts Company for the excellent description of the item, from which this post is adapted.  The detail about the oak plank is from the Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire. 

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